The Game That Never Was

Ever work on something for over a year and then, in the end, just toss it all into the trash? I have! Wheeee!

Back in 2002, I joined a start-up computer game company back in Oakhurst CA. This was not unusual as this was the site of Sierra On-Line, the one-time leader in the computer game industry and my workplace for 10 years. You see, in 1999 Sierra shut it’s doors and headed for Seattle, leaving a well-wired building and a bunch of talent behind in Oakhurst. During the next couple years, Oakhurst was ground-zero for folks looking for start-up locations. A couple of companies actually went as far as occupying the old building before giving up. The computer game field was a very speculative thing and folks got cold feet very easily, so I was excited to learn that the new folks throwing their hat into the ring was the local phone company, money-rich and known for never laying anyone off. I jumped aboard as Art Director along with my pal  Chris Willis and some strange programmers from Texas.

We began work on a Massively Multiplayer game title “The Ninth Domain”

The game took place in a universe in which magic has been tapped as a source of power and humans live in towns that resemble what we figured Middle Earth might look like  with the addition of some sort of Magical Power Generators. The towns are surrounded by fantastic landscapes and lands populated by other races of beings. The plus was that you could play the game as any race. Here are some of the concepts I came up with for the towns and surrounding lands

As you can see, I’ve created some sort of power harnesses that somehow draw power from crystals and spherical objects…you know, “magical stuff”! Tudor style building etc. The humans were warriors, magicians, monks, that sort of thing. I concentrated on the warrior types first.

Obviously, I was inspired by Frazetta on this last one. I drew ideas for the armor and weapons from various sources. Mixed and matched stuff that seemed to fit in one way or another. Of course, I was provided with text that described the races in detail and gave suggestions as to what their accouterments might look like.

Other races included the elf-like “Palandri”:

The snake-like “Cainnen”:

And some others, that I don’t remember the names of…I gave the responsibility of designing those races to Chris and other artists. We all got to try different approaches and in the end, decided who was right for each. It was fun. There were weapons and bad-guys as well:

All in all, it was fun. I got to hire old friends who were solid artists and a couple new ones as well. Tim Loucks, Teri Robinson, Bryan Ellis were all ex-Sierra friends (I went to college with Tim!). Brian Edenfield was great at designing structures.

I’ll need to contact them to jog my memory about who else was there.

All of these concepts were eventually turned into 3D meshes and the whole thing was rendered and placed into a game engine. It was all looking very cool art-wise, programming was stalled though and the designers, artists and management were all getting rather frustrated. Eventually, the money-folks and their advisors began to have major doubts in the ability of the programmers and one day, boom!: the axe fell.

Harry Baker, the owner bashfully told us in the meeting that he’s never layed-off anyone and I told him I’d been fired 3 times from 3 different companies in the very room we were standing in, so don’t sweat it!

As a postscript, Baker (79), a very public person in the community, eventually got busted for child-molestation and a slew of other  charges. Bummer.

Rich Powell

I'm an artist/illustrator residing in a small, North Carolina town. I worked for a few years as a conceptual artist and art director in the computer game industry but set off on my own to freelance. I currently do humorous illustration and cartoons for publications such as MAD Magazine and Highlights for Children.

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2 Responses

  1. Alex Forsyth says:

    Incredible stuff Rich. You are one seriously talented damn foreigner!

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